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The Harlingen (TX) Lodging Association Seeking the $462,836 Contract Currently Awarded
 to the Harlingen Convention and Visitors Bureau; Upset with CVB Managment

By Daisy Martinez, Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

July 14, 2007 - --HARLINGEN -- The Harlingen Lodging Association is seeking the contract currently awarded to the Harlingen Convention and Visitors Bureau to market the city.

The association, made up of 16 of the 17 hotels in the city, is asking for the contract worth approximately $462,836 for fiscal year 2006-2007. Representatives of the association said they want to market Harlingen and their business themselves rather than have the "non-existent" CVB do it for them.

The Office of the Secretary of State has certified the Harlingen Lodging Association as a "domestic nonprofit corporation."

However, Ruthie Ewers, interim president for the Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce, said she doesn't know if it would be a good idea for hoteliers to take over the CVB contract.

"As interim president of the chamber, I have worked very hard with the hoteliers to get their input and they've pretty much made up their minds that they want to handle their own advertisement," Ewers said. "I don't know of any other city that lets their hotels run the CVB. I respect them but I would not consider them to do it because they don't have the expertise, just like I don't (have the expertise) to run their hotels."

Tony Silvestro, vice president of the association and manager at Country Inn & Suites, said the association is a legitimate organization.

"We (got certified) to ask for the right to funding," Silvestro said. "We came together for the betterment of Harlingen and our industry. We would like to alleviate the (Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce) of the (functions of the CVB) and let them concentrate on what they do."

Michelle Helgren-Garza, president of the association and manager at Best Western, said the hoteliers in the city have been unhappy with the way the CVB has marketed the city and the hotels. She said many times former CVB director Elida Aguirre, who resigned her position in June, would "pick and choose" which hotels to do business with.

The association had asked for the resignation of Aguirre in March, claiming negative representation.

Ewers said she is currently looking to hire someone to fill the position of CVB director who is qualified and will be "the best cheerleader for Harlingen."

"This is not like the old days when just anyone can do it," Ewers said. "I don't think they realize how much time it takes to advertise the city."

Ewers said that differences need to be put aside for everyone to be able to work together.

Julie Parra, secretary of the association and director of sales at Country Inn & Suites, said that under state law every hotel has to be included in CVB marketing because they all pay hotel-motel taxes.

"The CVB is here to bring business and the hotels should get a chance to bid," Silvestro added.

The association also met with City Commissioners Robert Leftwich and Tom Hushen Wednesday to express their concerns.

"I want to bring it to the city commission for discussion," Hushen said. "I want to have a workshop. Maybe there is a simple solution, but we have to look at the whole picture."

Hushen said the association has a lot of good ideas but the city would also have to check into the legality of awarding the CVB contract to the association.

"We have to see what's good for the entire city," Hushen said. "They have ideas that I like but we need to see if it can be done and it has to be done correctly."

Silvestro said the association has already figured how to cut about 30 percent of the current CVB budget if the association took over marketing.

"The CVB payroll has always been outrageous," Silvestro said. "And they've done an overkill with advertising."

Parra said the association would like to start marketing in Canada.

"We don't need to advertise in 17 magazines to advertise birding. Maybe we could cut that to five or six magazines," Parra said. "The Canadian market is there waiting to be pounced on."

Silvestro said the association could do a better job at everything the CVB does now since the hoteliers know their market and business.

Helgren-Garza said one idea the association has is to market Harlingen as a package deal with South Padre Island and Mexico nearby as well as restaurants of all types.

Silvestro said there has been a lot of unfairness towards hotels from the CVB and said the association will not stop until they get the contract themselves or the city awards it to the Harlingen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

"The city finally got smart and separated the Economic Development Corporation from the chamber," Silvestro said. "The next smartest thing they could do is divide the CVB from the chamber."

The association is hoping that other businesses like restaurants join to association to work on promoting business for each other. It has also set up an e-mail address, harlingen_lodging@yahoo.com, and is currently working on their Web site www.harlingenlodgingassoc.com.

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To see more of the Valley Morning Star, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.valleystar.com.

Copyright (c) 2007, Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, Texas

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